Maximum for Tankleff
Term is 50 years to life for murdering parents
By Carolyn Colwell
Staff Writer

October 24, 1990

Martin Tankleff, the Belle Terre teenager convicted of bludgeoning and slashing his parents to death, yesterday was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison after a judge rejected a motion to set aside the verdict based on allegations of juror misconduct.

Tankleff, 19, did not display any emotion as he was led away carrying a Bible, after telling Suffolk County Court Judge Alfred Tisch, "I stand before you innocent of this charge. I loved my parents. I did not kill them."

The sentencing, originally scheduled for Aug. 28, had been delayed for a lengthy and acrimonious hearing on allegations by the defense that the verdict was tainted because of juror misconduct. But in an oral statement yesterday, Tisch denied the motion "in all respects."

The juror involved - Frank Spindel, a Bohemia cabinetmaker - denied the allegations, including a charge that he signaled Assistant District Attorney John Collins during testimony readbacks. After the sentencing yesterday in Riverhead, Collins said he doubted that he and Tankleff's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, would ever shake hands and be friends, and that he had taken the charges personally.

After disposing of the misconduct allegations, Tisch said he could not overlook an observation in the probation report on how "brutal" the murders were, and imposed the maximum 25 years to life for each murder conviction, to be served consecutively.

Ron Falbee, Tankleff's cousin with whom he lived while he was free on bail, said after court that "as far as we are concerned this is the end of the beginning and we're into the next phase now," a reference to Gottlieb's announcement that he would appeal.

Tankleff's mother, Arlene, was found dead in the master bedroom of the family's waterfront home with her throat cut and her head bludgeoned on Sept. 7, 1988. His father, Seymour, was found unconscious the same morning at the other end of the rambling ranch house with his throat cut and his head bashed. He died about a month later in a local hospital.

Within hours after the bodies were found, Tankleff confessed to police that he'd attacked his parents because of a list of grievances that included being forced to drive a "crummy old Lincoln" to school. But during the trial, Tankleff claimed that detectives coerced and tricked him into confessing by telling him about fake "humidity tests" on the shower where he allegedly washed himself and the murder weapons and by reporting that his father had regained consciousness and named him as the attacker. Tankleff initially responded that "maybe another Marty Tankleff did it," a statement that a defense psychiatrist said showed the devastating impact the fake accusation from his father had on a 17-year-old who had just found his parents' bodies.

Before the sentencing, Gottlieb said there was little more to say after a long trial and the vigorously contested motion to set aside the verdict. He said a notice of appeal would be filed immediately.

In asking Tisch for the maximum, Collins urged the judge to "show the defendant all the compassion that he showed his mother and father in September, 1988."

While Tankleff was emotionless during and after the sentencing, the rest of his family was tearful and bitter. His mother's sister, Marcella Alt Falbee, dissolved in tears as Tankleff was led away. A few minutes earlier she had taken the unusual step of addressing the court, saying, "I know Marty is innocent. From the moment he was taken into custody, I knew he was innocent. Nothing that happened in this courtroom has changed my mind." She added, "We will fight forever to free him from this injustice."

Tankleff's uncle, Norman Tankleff, and his wife, Ruth, fled the courtroom looking devastated. Ruth Tankleff was sobbing behind sunglasses and when she had to push her way through a pack of reporters asking if there would be an appeal, she replied in a choked voice, "Absolutely. Absolutely."

Tankleff's sister, Shari Rother, looked stunned as she left the courtroom on the arm of her husband, Ron. Earlier, after Tisch announced his decision to reject the motion to set aside the verdict and to take a recess before sentencing, she broke down as she was helped out of the courtroom by her husband and retired Det. James McCready, one of the two detectives who obtained Tankleff's confession.

After court, in her first interview about her brother's guilt, Shari Rother said it took her almost two years after the murders to decide that her brother was guilty. She said she became convinced of his guilt on the second day of his trial testimony when he said that he had gone into his mother's bedroom and touched her, getting blood on his hands. For months and months, her brother had insisted to her that he had not gone into his mother's bedroom, she said.

Tankleff originally had been scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 28, but that sentencing was postponed when Gottlieb told the court he would be filing a motion to set aside the verdict based on new evidence that someone else was involved in the killings. When reporters asked Gottlieb after court yesterday what happened to the new evidence, Gottlieb said that there was nothing that he could discuss with the press at this point.

Tisch said from the bench that he would issue a written decision at a later date to explain his reasons for denying the motion to set aside the verdict.

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